Thursday, February 19, 2009

I did it! I did it! I did it, yay!

I had excellent baking mojo on Valentine's day. Two very different baking tasks that had previously eluded me were finally accomplished successfully: King Cake and a fondant-covered cake. (This is the song that' s been stuck in my head ever since I managed these tasks.)

First up: the King Cake. I'm pretty good with batters, but I kind of stink at doughs. Both the cannolli shells and the pierogi that I made on Christmas Eve came out too small and too thick because the dough kept on shrinking back as soon as I'd cut it. Sugar cookies are hit or miss for me. I've never even attempted a from-scratch pie crust. And yeast doughs? Forget about it. I tried a King Cake last year and it never rose. At all.

Well it turns out that the recipe I was using was really weird. The ingredients were good, but the methodology was pretty bizarre. (I think, though I can't be sure, that whoever wrote out the recipe was using an ingredient list that included "active dry" yeast, but wrote the instructions for "instant" yeast.) Of course I didn't realize it at the time, because I'd never attempted a yeast dough before. But now, armed with the knowledge I've gleaned from Alton Brown's baking book ("I'm Just Here for More Food"), I knew what was wrong with the recipe, and I knew how to make it right. I remember reading somewhere that King Cakes are essentially brioche, but the process for brioche is considerably more complicated, and it seemed like a bit much for a complete novice. So I used the "straight dough method".

And it worked. And it tasted perfect, exactly how a King Cake is supposed to taste. I was worried that it would come out tasting too lemony, but it was perfect!

I didn't roll it out too evenly, hence the difference in size between the two halves of the cake. But it tasted right, and that's all that really matters.

I've never been able to find purple sugar crystals anywhere except for on the internet, and since the decision to try the King Cake was kind of spur-of-the-moment, I obviously didn't have time to order any. (Mixing together red and blue crystals to try and make a kind of pointilist purple doesn't work - the crystals are too big.) So I did a quick google and discovered that it's ridiculously easy to make your own colored sugar; just put some white sugar in a zip-top bag with a couple of drops of icing color, seal the bag, and roll over it with a rolling pin until the color is evenly distributed. The crystals are a lot smaller than the ones you get in the little shaker bottles at the supermarket, but the results are perfectly passable.

Now for the Valentine's cake. My Valentine's Day gift "from Brandon" this year was a set of mini heart cookie cutters and a comfort-grip cookie cutter shaped like lips. Since I had cake mix and a box of Wilton fondant in the pantry, I felt suddenly inspired to try a little (6") cake. My thinking in buying the Wilton fondant was that maybe my attempts at marshmallow fondant have been woefully unsuccessful because I have no idea precisely what it's supposed to turn out like.

The Wilton fondant didn't taste quite as bad as I was expecting, from the way everyone talks about it. Not nearly as yummy as MMF, and it is pretty cardboard-y, although there isn't any more chemically aftertaste from eating a whole slice of cake's worth than a tiny little bite. But it is so easy to work with!

This was just a quick, 1-layer, "let's-see-if-I-can-do-this" kind of project, so it's not very polished. I didn't do a border around the bottom because I didn't feel like mixing up a batch of royal icing, and the cake board has grease spots on it from the buttercream layer because I don't have any fanci-foil. But overall, I'm happy with how it turned out.


Dianne said...

they're both beautiful!! especially the Valentine creation

Sunshine said...

I'm oozing fondant with jealousy. I would like to make rockstar cakes but decided I don't have the patience or skill to accomplish it. The baking part? I'm good. The rest? Trainwreck.

So excellent, you are a master.

Kerry said...

I'm flattered, thanks you guys! It's really not that hard, I swear. Fondant is a LOT easier than buttercream. Seriously.

Mother Hoodwink said...

Mmmm, King Cake.

They're both lovely. You have mad fondant skillz.

Dianne said...

I guess the king cake they gave us at Mardi Gras World was not authentic because it was just a square cake. But did yours have a little doll in it?

Kerry said...

I didn't put the plastic baby in it. I considered it, I have them, but I decided against it. Since the point of the baby is that whoever gets it has to bring the cake to the next party, and there's no way for anyone else to get their hands on a King Cake, I skipped that.
I've never seen a square King Cake, and if it was an actual CAKE then it was definitely not authentic; King Cakes are sweet breads.